Height, Width - and Depth

When I was small my eyesight was poor - short sight, with a weak left eye. My parents, wanting to find out whether I could actually see in 3-D, bought a book of 3-D pictures (using the red-green method and complete with glasses). I was fascinated by it, particularly those photos where something appeared to stand out above the page - I felt I could slide my finger under it. So my eyesight checked out in that regard, and it left me with an interest in 3-D.

In 1951, when I was nine, my parents took me to the Festival of Britain exhibition on London's South Bank: I saw some colour 3-D films at the 'Telekinema' and again was fascinated by the effect. (I saw them again some forty years later at the National Film Theatre and they stood up pretty well.) Subsequently I've seen a number of the colour 3-D films (Polaroid system) made in the 1950s, including Kiss Me Kate and House of Wax. (I've also seen demos of excerpts from some of the other systems, including the messy method used for Flesh for Frankenstein, which was very eyestrain inducing).

Yesterday I saw the latest incarnation of the process - IMAX 3-D, at the BFI IMAX cinema at the south end of London's Waterloo Bridge. This has been around for some time, but until recently only for short films. The newest feature is DreamWorks' computer-animated Monsters vs Aliens, presented on the massive IMAX screen (though not using quite the full height of the screen as the computer images are in a standard widescreen aspect ratio). The film is lightweight comedy science-fiction - a normal girl becomes a giantess, and with the help of three monsters hidden away by the government fight off an invasion by a power-crazed alien - undemanding fun. I'm more concerned here with the 3-D than the film itself.

The effect is certainly impressive, particularly in the huge interiors when there is a genuine sense of space. The large film format has pretty well eliminated the standard problem with the older method - sprocket weave causing the two strips of film to jiggle about differently, resulting in a headache by the end of a feature: here the images had minimum jiggle and aligned well. The very large picture, filling most of one's range of vision, allows the 3-D to work better than it did in smaller frames, particularly in placing images apparently close in front of the viewer: the illusion of a close solid object is extremely effective.

The other main problem is seemingly insoluble: a cut from a distant view to something close up causes the eyes to have to converge very rapidly, and this can have a straining effect. However, though I did experience a mild headache briefly during the film I didn't have the after-effects which used to be all too common.

It would be interesting to see a live-action feature in 3-D - I'm not sure whether any are coming up: and as IMAX cinemas are few and far between I doubt that this is going to become the standard format of the future, but it's an impressive way of seeing a movie.

Posted: Wed - April 29, 2009 at 09:23 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM